Eating and drinking during radiotherapy | Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Eating and drinking during radiotherapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about eating and drinking during and after radiotherapy treatment. There is information about


What to eat and drink

You need to have as healthy a diet as possible during radiotherapy. Your body needs protein to heal itself and you need plenty of calories. Your radiographer, doctor or nurse can advise you on how to eat well. They can also arrange for you to see a dietitian if you are having problems with eating. 

It is important not to diet during radiotherapy so that you don't lose weight. Your radiotherapy plan is specific to your size and shape. If your weight changes a lot your radiotherapy plan may need to be done again.

If you are able to eat normal foods it is important to eat high energy and protein foods, such as

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Full fat milk
  • Pulses (peas and beans)

If you don't have much appetite you can add extra energy and protein to your diet, without actually having to eat more food. You can have high energy drinks as milkshakes or soups. And you can add high protein powders to your normal food. Your doctor or nurse can prescribe these for you.

It is important to drink plenty of fluids, about 3 litres a day if possible. Keeping well hydrated helps the body to heal the radiotherapy damage.


Tips for eating well

If you are having problems eating, it can help to

  • Have small snacks through the day rather than large meals – eat little and often
  • Have a soft or liquid diet if swallowing is difficult
  • Avoid strong alcohol – it can aggravate a sore mouth or a sensitive digestion
  • Avoid spicy foods if your mouth or throat are sore
  • Ask staff about potential problems and how to try to prevent them before you start your treatment if possible
  • Tell the radiotherapy staff about any problems you have with eating or drinking – they can arrange for you to talk to a dietician
  • Ask the staff if you need any food supplements

If you have problems

If you are having difficulty eating enough, you can eat high fat foods. There are more calories in fat than in protein or carbohydrate. 

Remember that you may lose a little weight during radiotherapy. But if you are having any problems with eating tell the staff involved in your treatment.


Alcohol during radiotherapy

Usually it is fine to have small or moderate amounts of alcohol during your treatment. But strong spirits can inflame a sore mouth or throat if you are having radiotherapy to your head or neck area. 

Radiotherapy can make you feel tired and alcohol can make you feel even more tired. It is important not to drive or operate machinery if you feel tired or dizzy.

If you are not sure whether you can drink alcohol ask your doctor or radiographer.


More information about radiotherapy

Find out about

Internal radiotherapy

Side effects of radiotherapy

High energy drinks

Having a soft or liquid diet

Managing diet problems

Coping physically with cancer

For general information and support

Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)

Share experiences on our online forum – Cancer Chat

Rate this page:
Submit rating


Rated 4 out of 5 based on 60 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 14 March 2016